The use of internet – or electronic – voting in elections is growing. But there are still plenty of concerns about reliability, safety and privacy. Will electing your government via the tap of a smartphone ever catch on?
Next month people in the UK will vote in a general election, heading to polling stations at schools, libraries and other public buildings to put a cross on a piece of paper.
In the digital era, it all seems quaintly archaic.
Bad weather can put people off going to vote, while others forget to register or might be away on holiday and not have arranged a postal vote.
Couldn’t technology remove some of these barriers to democratic involvement?
Estonia certainly thinks so.
About 14 countries have used some form of online voting, but Estonia was the first to introduce permanent national internet voting.
The small Baltic state began using online voting in 2005, and i-voting has served in eight elections. In the 2005 local elections, only 1.9% of voters cast their ballot online, rising to more than 30% in the most recent parliamentary election.
“I-voting has become massive, and statistically there is no such thing as a typical i-voter,” says Arne Koitmae, deputy head of Estonia’s Electoral Office.
“All voters, irrespective of gender, income, education, nationality and even computer skills, have the likelihood of becoming an i-voter,” he says.
Online voting is a good way to engage with younger voters, busy workers, and even Estonians living abroad, Mr Koitmae says. “In 2015, Estonians living in 116 different countries participated in the elections using internet voting.”
However, it does not seem to have increased the total number of people voting, he says. Rather, people have changed their preferred method of voting.
Since Estonia’s i-voting began, there have been no serious security issues, Mr Koitmae says. The technology and processes used are updated regularly based on technical advances and experiences from each election.
A crucial part of Estonia’s system is that online voting is linked to the country’s state-of-the-art electronic identity cards – carried by every citizen and resident.
Digital ID cards allow for the secure authentication of the owner online, and enables a digital signature to be linked to the account. Newer cards include an electronic copy of the owner’s fingerprints.
Estonian voter Igor Hobotov says the ID-linked i-voting system makes him feel a lot more secure when voting than a paper-based method. In fact, he says he might not vote at all if the online option was not available to him.
“I have e-voted multiple times, in local elections and parliament elections. Mostly I’ve been at home, but once I even voted on holiday from Cape Town. I prefer to e-vote because it is more convenient and more secure – we have a digital ID card with [strong] encryption, which is really, really hard to hack,” Mr Hobotov says.
“I can vote without any hassle, just sat at the computer. I would probably never vote if I had to go somewhere to do it.”